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The politics of trauma: gender, futurity and violence prevention in South Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-457
Number of pages17
JournalMedical Anthropology Quarterly
Issue number4
Accepted/In press7 Feb 2021
Published22 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The doctoral work on which this article is based was funded by a Commonwealth Scholarship from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK. Many thanks to Tessa Moll, Fiona Ross, Colleen Crawford Cousins, and Thomas Cousins for their feedback on drafts of this article, as well as Janelle Lamoreaux and Sahra Gibbon who edited this special issue. Acknowledgments Publisher Copyright: © 2021 by the American Anthropological Association

King's Authors


In this article, I consider the framing of trauma as an epigenetic exposure that warrants intergenerational interventions. I draw on ethnographic research conducted in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa in 2014–15 to illustrate how violence prevention in this context is increasingly framed in epigenetic terms. I show that, in contrast to the anticipatory logic of a programmatic focus on maternal investment as a means to arrest intergenerational cycles of violence, violence produces different infrastructures of anticipation and effects on intergenerational relations. I argue against the speculative conflation of trauma and intergenerational epigenetics, to resist a newly biologized view of the bodily manifestations of apartheid history—in itself a re-inscription of damage, and a form of violence. Drawing on Murphy's concept of distributed reproduction (2017b), I argue for collectivized forms of intervention that aim for accountability and social justice.

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